Although I’ve never been a high-maintenance woman with an elaborate or pricey beauty and fashion regime, I had certain standards for feeling good about my appearance. As a work-from-home mom, I invested most of my time and energy on looking my best when I went out. “Who sees me, anyway?” was my mantra for my “office” look. My biggest indulgence was in biweekly manicures for the hands I look at all day while I work. The fuzzy video quality of video meetings and socializing during pandemic lockdowns gave me a wide berth to minimize my efforts toward how I looked. Beauty salons were closed so hair and nails were left up to me to groom, and I’ve never been good at primping.
Initially, I worried that not worrying about my former beauty and style habits was an indication of COVID depression, angst and apathy. However, in the summer of 2020 I turned 50 and realized I’ve simply become more comfortable in my own skin. I’ve stopped focusing on perceived “flaws” I want to hide and have shifted toward self-acceptance and comfort. Here are the aspects of my appearance I no longer obsess over.
- Gray hair. While prepandemic me didn’t often cut or dye her hair, it was mostly because I didn’t need to. I was fortunate to avoid graying until my mid-40s, and my curly hair made it easy to hide those random few dashes of salt in my dark brown locks. However, it seems age, menopause and COVID anxiety have splatter-painted my hair with silvery white dashes. I gave up my old bad habit of plucking prominent grays near my temple, leaving me with a skunklike streak from the side of my forehead. But here’s the weird part: I kind of like it! If stylist Stacy London can rock her gray streak, so can I. Will I keep it forever? I’m not sure. But for now I’m fine with letting this new addition continue.
- Foundation. In the before times, I felt naked without cover-up and foundation, mascara, eye shadow and sometimes eyeliner. I had deep insecurities about the uneven tone of my skin with its sun spots and dark circles under my eyes. While I knew makeup was only partially hiding these natural aspects of my skin, it also made me feel better to cover them up. Now? I don’t care. Most of my face is obscured by a mask anyway if I’m out in public, so my eyes are really all anyone can see. If it’s a special occasion, I might put some light cover-up on those dark circles and highlight my big eyes with subtle makeup, but generally my face leaves the house these days without a drop of cosmetics.
- Lip color. I was never a lipstick fan as I have super dry lips, despite being a nose-breather. I used moisturizing tint or gloss in the past, but I am fortunate to have a fairly nice natural color to my lips, anyway. With masks becoming the norm when I leave the house, it didn’t seem worth the trouble or expense to continue with lip color. I’ll never give up Vaseline on my lips, however. There’s no beauty in cracked, chapped lips!
- Bras. I’ll admit I’m privileged here, because I could pass the pencil test well into my 40s. However, we all know gravity and Mother Nature are hard on aging women, so again, I wore a bra only when I left my house — mostly out of worry that it was obvious if I wasn’t wearing one. Fast forward to post-pandemic times and 18 months of living almost exclusively braless, and I simply have yet to find a bra that I feel 100 percent comfortable wearing. I used to love the look and lift in underwires, but now they just feel like my chest is being squeezed onto an uncomfortable shelf. I’ve tried all the other styles of bras, too, but nothing feels as good as going without. I’ve given up for now — and simply wear clothes that hide that I’m swinging free.
- Uncomfortable clothes. Just like the discomfort of bras, I’ve declared a moratorium on uncomfortable clothes. While I’ve always worn leggings and tunics or dresses for comfort and fit, I now absolutely refuse to wear one item of clothing that isn’t comfortable. I’ve sized up in underwear and bought more joggers than I ever imagined. When you get used to wearing pj’s all day, every day, it’s hard to wear real pants. I may love Stacy London’s streak of silver hair, but she’d hate my “I don’t care what you think about what I’m wearing” wardrobe. It’s all good, Stacy. I don’t look sloppy or disheveled, but I do feel comfortable.
Most important in my beauty routine
Despite how it sounds, I haven’t completely given up on myself. There are still two things I invest time, energy and money into: my skin and my teeth. I’ve had “difficult” skin since I was a teen, with bouts of hormonal and cystic acne. My skin-care products have changed with the dryness age has brought, but my desire to stay blemish-free hasn’t. I still use an acne cleanser, but it’s a milder version than in younger years, and I’ve given up the acne-specific toner. Instead, to keep some semblance of a glow, I use a toner with AHA, BHA and PHA to gently lift the dead skin from my face that my lower collagen level isn’t doing anymore. I also use an all-purpose acne treatment plus moisturizer to keep my confused skin happy without being too dry or too oily.
It’s really important to understand that skin changes with age and hormones, and every person has different skin — and therefore unique-to-them skin-care requirements. It can be overwhelming to look at all the products available, such as acids, vitamins, retinoids, collagen. What do they all do? I’ve started researching them all in order to pick the items appropriate for my skin’s individual needs.
Teeth can also change dramatically as we age. I’ve begun to care more about what mine do for me, versus how they look. After all, I love to eat! Now that my teeth are shifting due to age — a common occurrence in women over 40 — I’ve invested in a good-quality electric toothbrush, combined with a whitening toothpaste to help with the stains from years of coffee and wine consumption. Instead of flossing only when I need to get corn or broccoli out, I’ve started flossing daily. I grind and clench my teeth (and have for years), but I’m finally giving in to be fitted for a night guard. Waking up with headaches is no fun, and seeing my teeth slowly moving positions makes me nervous.
Some might consider my abridged beauty processes to be more lazy and neglectful than self-care, but I feel proud to have finally achieved a level of self-acceptance I was missing for so much of my younger life. I care how I look, but I also care about feeling comfortable and loving myself as I am. Confidence is always attractive.
What beauty habits do you no longer worry about? Let us know in the comments below.